Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I
The EU is not heaven, nor a severed UK hell, but we have, indeed, sacrificed a favourable place and position for the sake of pride, for want of a better word. The fact that the chains that bound us were not chains at all and were of our own making and continual renewal doesn’t matter. At a deep level, the UK was offended, and that offence had a price.
We haven’t fallen from paradise, but we have left the larger cosmopolis (a nation of many peoples) and probably have broken our smaller one. We rejected blending with many peoples, however around the edges and the majority demands that we pull back at whatever the cost. The many flares of overt xenophobic racism before and especially right after the decision are worrisome. We’re heading into difficult times: Our economy will shrink. The clowns that pretend to be leaders will try to wiggle out of the worst consequences. But such wriggling may well be met by revulsion and revolt. Once things break a little, the risk of catastrophic failure goes up.
I hope we can salvage some measures of sanity, dignity, and kindness. In my most optimistic moments, I imagine we can stay cosmopolitan, either by staying in the EU (though there are prices to be paid there) or staying sane somewhat outside it (with different prices).
Even that is just gripping tightly to the facade of a society. Increasing economic inequality is probably at the heart of matters. I’d long been wondering why various peoples around the world didn’t rise up harder after the Great Recession wherein there was so much unnecessary suffering and loss. Wherein the people most responsible paid almost not price at all, or even flourished, smug and condescending in their undeserved riches. Something will give, and it won’t be nice, or rational, or effective.
We on the left might think this is fertile ground for a new leftist politics where social and economic justice can be furthered.
We would be wrong.
The propaganda and political ironworks that dominate our societies do not wholly prevent outcomes that the rich elites favour (at least, not those that most favour), but they aren’t channeled against root causes. Austerity is popular in the UK populace. Blame is directed toward mirages and the people who suffer are those living there.
While personal failures are not the sole cause of this crises, the petty politicking of Cameron, Johnson, and various lesser figures in the Conservative Party have let the fires out while Corbyn, the Labour Party Members, and the Labour MPs Just Fall Down.
In the end, stuff will happen. We will muddle to a new normal. I don’t think the issues that motivated the Great Breaking are going to be anything but worsened by it and now we have new ones. Half the populace is alienated, perhaps enraged, by the other half.
E pluribus unum; ex uno multa.
Après nous le déluge.
But the mind is its own place. Perhaps by thinking and feeling together, we can make a just city from this fractured landscape.